UM Filmmaker Documents Historic Stand-up Paddleboard Journey

Erin dunphy on a boat Erin dunphy on a boat
Erin Dunphy, B.S.C. '06
Erin Dunphy, B.S.C. ’06, sailed alongside the first-ever paddleboard journey from Cuba to Florida.

When Erin Dunphy first got the call from Victoria Burgess, she knew that travelling to Cuba, and leaving the U.S. for the first time to film her friend’s attempt to paddleboard across the Straits of Florida, was an incredible opportunity. “I couldn't turn her down; not only is she a childhood friend, but it's a project of a lifetime,” Dunphy said. 

After returning from the 100 mile record-breaking, “Chica Libre” Cuba to Key West excursion on July 11, the UM alumna, filmmaker and event planner shared her delight and pride with the accomplishments of everyone involved in the successful crossing. “This trip was special because it showed the world that anyone, even a woman, could do something big if you really set your mind to it.”

Dunphy turned to trusted friends and colleagues at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences and set out to learn more about nautical conditions, mapping and potential challenges. 

How did you connect with Professor Villy Kourafalou before this journey?

My friend and former boss, Bryanna Herzog, who works at the Richter Library, had suggested that I reach out to the Rosenstiel Campus. I reached out to Professor Kourafalou a couple of weeks before the paddle and we managed to slip in a quick meeting before she had to leave overseas. Villy a wealth of information. She really opened my eyes to just how difficult the paddle would be from the perspective of obstacles faced by the currents and eddys. After our meeting, I took everything Villy told me and reported back to Victoria. She and I examined the current charts every day leading up to the paddle. The captains and I even looked at them while on the boat during the crossing and it was so interesting to see how these little lines in a chart play out in real life. 

Tell us about your background as a filmmaker; what you studied at UM and your passion for documentary filmmaking?

I attended the University of Miami from 2002-2006 with an emphasis in screenwriting. As a Screenwriting/Motion Pictures Major, I considered Professor Rafael Lima my mentor. He had a strong background in journalism and documentary filmmaking so he was always an inspiration to me. Upon graduation in 2006, I worked my way up at a production company in the Miami TV Industry, mostly focusing on producing. In the end, I decided to do my own thing and opened my own fledgling production company. I started filming my own documentary '1000 Days of Celibacy' and did freelance work - anything from music videos to trade show videos. In 2008, after the writer's strike took its toll, I decided to leave the TV industry and move to North Carolina to pursue a career in event planning. I did that for a while, until Victoria asked me to come out of retirement to film this project.  

Why was this a symbolic and special journey?

Victoria on a paddleboardI think this was a symbolic and special journey for Victoria and I in many different ways. Victoria has always been one of the strongest and most athletic people that I know. And when I say strong, I mean both physically and mentally. She was a firefighter and medic for years and she's seen some stuff. I've never seen her falter. When she said she was going to do this, I didn't think twice, I knew she had the mental and physical ability to do it. This trip was special because it showed the world that anyone - even a woman - could do something big if you really set your mind to it. Cliché, I know, but it's true. Victoria works a 9-5 day job and is not rich. While she did get some donations, she paid for this trip out of her own pocket. She trained on her lunch breaks, after work and before work - all while taking online classes to finish her Ph.D. It took motivation and discipline to get there and she did it.

On a personal note, this trip was symbolic and special for me as well. I had not picked up a camera for a documentary in over a decade and this project was a rebirth in some ways. You don't see many female videographers out there and this was a massive undertaking for even seasoned ones. We also had no budget, no room for a crew (it would have to be a one woman show) and unknown conditions, weather-wise.  I felt that Victoria and I took a big step forward for women - she accomplished a physical feat never done before by a woman and I had the honor of being the female filmmaker that filmed it. Girl Power!

How does film/imagery help to tell stories in an impactful way?

It's like they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. Though, maybe a good clip or series of clips is worth ten thousand. A good film takes you to an emotional place. A good film is memorable and sticks there in your brain. We're hoping that when the footage of Victoria's paddle is compiled into a compelling story, you'll see exactly just what she faced out there.  

Crew of the Chica Libre